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Customer Review

on January 7, 2013
"There will be few markers from this war and much of the history will be inaccurate or incomplete... Leaders make mistakes, and they are often costly. The first reflex is normally to deny the failure to themselves; the second is to hide it from others, because most leaders covet a reputation for infallibility. But it's a fool's dream and is inherently dishonest."

-- Gen. McChrystal, "My Share of the Task" (2013)

"Of the several occasions when he himself attracted critical attention -- the Pat Tillman affair, for example, or the leaking of his Afghan strategic assessment -- McChrystal offers explanations [in his memoir "My Share of the Task"] that fall somewhere between perfunctory and disingenuous. "

-- Andrew Bacevich, New York Times book review "Avoiding Defeat" (February 8, 2013)
. . .

Gen. Stanley McChrystal begins his memoir, "My Share of the Task," by writing he intends to weave together the threads of history and leadership around the story of his life. However, I found his thread of leadership to be rather threadbare. McChrystal scatters anecdotal examples of leadership throughout his book, but only in the last pages does he write about "what he had learned about leadership." Similarly, the thread of his life is focused on his Army career, and doesn't dwell much on his personal life, feelings or thoughts. By far, the thread of history is the thickest, and his book has more the feel of a history text than a memoir.

Part I is an extended prologue. McChrystal describes the first 30 years of his Army career, beginning in 1972 when he entered West Point, followed by service in mostly special forces units (Airborne, Special Forces, and Ranger RGT), and ending with his 2002 assignment to the Pentagon Joint Staff. During these years he never commanded units in combat.

Part II, the centerpiece of the book, portrays his history of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) under his command from 2003 to 2008. JSOC is comprised of elite operators such as Delta, Seals, DevGru, Rangers, etc. and their support staff. McChrystal tells the story of how JSOC radically transformed itself from a group of `shooters" into a network interlinked with other agencies "that gathered information swiftly and acted accordingly" and became one of the U.S.'s most effective counterterrorism weapons.

McChrystal briefly describes the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. However, he failed to credit the Tikrit Delta team & interrogator Eric Maddox ("Mission Black List #1") for their efforts which directly led to Saddam's capture (perhaps because it could raise questions about the role of torture in the death of a high-value detainee who had a "heart attack" shortly after arriving at "Camp Nama" resulting in Maddox "facing a dead end").

In succeeding chapters, McChrystal writes his history of JSOC's battles against al-Qaeda in Iraq: e.g. 2004's First & Second battles of Fallujah, 2005's operation "Snake Eyes" to cut off the supply of foreign fighters, 2006's battle for Ramadi, and JSOC's support for the 2007 Iraq "Surge" and the Sunni "awakening" movement (for more detail, see Michael Gordon's "The Endgame").

Curiously, McChrystal didn't mention the key role of the "Taji trove" (see Thom Shanker's book "Counterstrike") in the 2007 Iraq "Surge" that "was so valuable that one military officer compared it to the allies success in breaking the Nazis' Enigma codes during WWII... 'It gave us their whole ball game for Baghdad.'" And, he only mentioned the "Sinjar papers" in a footnote (p. 415); Shanker wrote that "Gen. Petraeus said the overall Sinjar effort did more to halt the terror networks that flowed foreign fighters and suicide bombers into Iraq than any other operation." Similarly, Marc Bowden wrote ("The Finish") that the Sinjar papers "played a big part in decapitating al Qaeda in Iraq... McChrystal has cited the Sinjar raid as one of his unit's most important breakthroughs."

McChrystal's memoir is valuable for providing a strategic "big-picture" history of JSOC's fight in Iraq (I would also suggest Mark Urban's book, "Task Force Black" that describes JSOC's fight from the viewpoint of the British SAS). However, if you're interested in an "operator" level portrayal, I would suggest books such as Mark Owen's "No Easy Day," Marcus Luttrell's "Service," or Chris Kyle's "American Sniper."

The "heart" of McChrystal's memoir is his 50-page narrative of the manhunt and 2006 killing of Abu al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He uses the Zarqawi manhunt to illustrate how JSOC uses a variety of tools including "skillful" interrogation, drone surveillance, and signals intelligence to "find, fix, and finish" insurgents. Here, McChrystal claims that TF 145's three "best" interrogators developed rapport with a detainee to get the intel that led to Zaraqwi. However, McChrystal's "inside story" of these interrogations totally contradicts the accounts of Marc Bowden's article "The Ploy" ("the real story is more complicated and interesting"), Mark Urban's book "Task Force Black" ("multiple sources have confirmed to me the accuracy of Bowden's article"), and Matthew Alexander's book "How to Break A Terrorist" ("We found Zarqawi in spite of the way the task force did business"). In reality, Alexander used rapport to get key intel in a few hours (just before the detainee was due to be shipped out) that JSOC's "best" interrogators had failed to get in three weeks using their "old-school" attitude!

. . .

"Overshadowed by the McChrystal controversy was the story Hastings really wanted to produce: an indictment of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which Hastings considers a deadly folly... [In his book "The Operators"] he argues that the Afghanistan war is a debacle and that counterinsurgency is a liberal-sounding sham..."

-- Spencer Ackerman, "Michael Hastings: McChrystal Was `Complex,' Obama Was Naive, Afghanistan Is Hopeless" - January 5, 2012)

In Part III, McChrystal whitewashes his command of the Afghan War from 2009-2010. He refuses to admit that the military "boxed in" Obama into making the Afghan war "surge" (e.g. Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars"). And he doesn't address the failure of his strategically flawed COIN strategy (e.g. Fred Kaplan's "The Insurgents). McChrystal's "surge" didn't work, President Obama fired McChrystal, and Gen. David Petreaus couldn't make COIN work either. But, McChrystal should have known it was "folly" from the beginning. His "best military advice" wasn't worth squat. A lot of troops have been killed or wounded because of it.

McChrystal ends Part III of his memoir with a brief, disingenuous discussion of the controversial "Rolling Stone" profile by Michael Hastings which led to his June 2010 firing by President Obama. McChrystal claims he "resigned" instead of being fired (although he only issued an apology & hadn't submitted his resignation before meeting Obama). McChrystal still declines to "confirm or deny" the accuracy of the quotes and falsely implies they were off-the record. McChrystal claims he "consulted no one" (although the "general's first action was to call his superiors" such as Secretary of Defense Gates and Vice President Biden, etc). Finally, McChrystal claims he "took full responsibility" for the "Rolling Stone" piece (although before flying to DC his PR advisor Duncan Boothby "offers his resignation - McChrystal accepts").

Note: For a more critical and honest account of "Le'Affair Rolling Stan," I would suggest Michael Hasting's 2012 book "The Operators."

. . .

"... at the very same time the Army was cleaning up Abu Ghraib ... at an elite secret interrogation facility [JSOC's Camp Nama] ... nudity and hooding and stress positions were still routine... "Do you know where the colonel was getting his orders from?" ... "I believe it was a two-star general. I believe his name was General McChrystal. I saw him there a couple of times."

-- John Richardson, "Esquire" (2006)

McChrystal claims that Abu Gharib was the work of a "few bad apples" and that he "never condoned mistreatment of detainees" But the 2008 Senate Report, "Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," said: "The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of ... `a few bad apples' acting on their own. ... Interrogation policies endorsed by senior military and civilian officials authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques were a major cause of the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.... SMU {JSOC] TF [task force] policies were a direct cause of detainee abuse and influenced interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq". In addition, as Joint Staff VDJ3 it appears McChrystal was involved in the process of formally importing torture to Iraq in 2003 by sending Gen. Geoffrey Miller to "Gitmotize" Abu Gharib and by sending SERE instructors to teach torture techniques to TF 121.

After he took command of JSOC in 2003, instead of reducing torture, McChrystal approved more techniques until he was ordered to stop most of them after the Abu Gharib scandal; although it appears JSOC didn't fully clean up its act until the end of 2005. Maj. Douglas Preyer wrote in his book, "The Fight for the High Ground": "Incredibly, even after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the facility run by the elite Special Mission Unit in Iraq [TF121] continued to permit more of these techniques than had been previously allowed at Abu Ghraib..."

And, after McChrystal's 2009 Senate testimony, Senator Russ Feingold wrote: "I am concerned about General McChrystal's public testimony, which sought to convey that he was ``uncomfortable'' with various interrogation techniques and sought to ``reduce'' their use. Given the full history of his approach to interrogations, this testimony appears to be incomplete, at best." Overall, it appears McChrystal's memoir attempts to re-write history and whitewash his role in the use of torture as commander of JSOC.

. . .

"... in Afghanistan I watched the Rangers deal with the loss of a comrade, and I saw nothing but genuine efforts to take care of a comrade, and I saw nothing but genuine efforts to take care of a fallen Ranger and his family in ways that reflected the deep values of the force."

-- Gen. McChrystal, My Share of the Task (2013)

Gen. McChrystal claims it's a "misperception" that there was a cover-up of Pat Tillman's 2004 friendly fire death in Afghanistan. However, his account is disingenuous and simply doesn't withstand informed scrutiny. In reality, General McChrystal played a central role in the Army's cover up. Although McChrystal was told of confirmed fratricide within two days, he intentionally failed in his duty to pass on notification to the family, he supervised and approved a fraudulent Silver Star recommendation (with two forged witness statements), and he apparently directed others to conceal evidence of friendly fire from the medical examiner. Since then, McChrystal's central role has been repeatedly whitewashed by the Democratic Congress and President Obama.

In April 2011, just after McChrystal was supposedly "cleared" (the DoD IG's "investigation" report is a joke!) of "all wrongdoing" in the "Rolling Stone" case, President Obama appointed him to head up the "Joining Forces" program to support military veterans and their families. In response, Mary Tillman (Pat Tillman's mother) said, "It's a slap in the face to appoint this man" ... "He deliberately helped cover up Pat's death"... someone who has a heartfelt desire to help families would not have been involved in the cover-up of a soldier's death..."

. . .

"A great many things went unsaid both during McChrystal's [April 2012 Pittsburgh] address and the Q&A... There was no mention of his role in the cover up of the "friendly-fire" slaying of Pat Tillman, including issuing a bogus Silver Star citation for the Ranger. No one asked him about the pattern of detainee abuse in Iraq by [JSOC] units overseen by McChrystal's command ... McChrystal fizzled badly in Afghanistan, and everyone seems to want to dub him a 21st century Sir Gawain... "

-- Carl Prine, "McChrystal Clear" ("Line of Departure" blog, June 3, 2012)

The book jacket for "My Share of the Task" promises to "frankly explore the major episodes and controversies of his eventful career." Before reading the book, I had anticipated McChrystal would ignore or only briefly mention-in-passing his controversies (with a bit of prevarication). Instead, it appears he's adopted Goering's "big lie" propaganda technique and decided to disingenuously whitewash his controversies with a thick layer of BS and confabulation.

McChrystal has said, "The one thing you can never, and should never want to dodge, is responsibility." However, McChrystal has "dodged" responsibility for his role in formally importing torture to Abu Gharib, for the use of routine torture by JSOC forces under his command, and for his central role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's 2004 friendly-fire death in Afghanistan.

This past Memorial Day, Mary Tillman (Pat Tillman's mother) called and we spoke for about an hour. After speaking briefly with McChrystal in April, she said she had considered meeting face-to-face with him in DC, but she figured they "would probably walk away more frustrated than when we walked in." After reading McChrystal's memoir, I believe she was right. Despite McChrystal's platitudes about the Ranger Creed and taking "care of a fallen Ranger and his family," it appears this guy is a master of confabulation who just won't genuinely admit a mistake, genuinely take responsibility for his actions, or be genuinely truthful about the controversies of his career. His hypocrisy is pathetic.

Mary also told me that seeing McChrystal on the news was "like rubbing salt in a wound." Unfortunately, this old general just won't fade away; he's been making the rounds of the talk show circuit peddling his book (I guess he figures no one will call him on his BS, and so far, he's been right).

In the past, I used to have a grudging respect for McChrystal when he remained silent and simply refused comment about Pat Tillman. But, since McChrystal won't come clean about his "mistakes," I feel he ought to take the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who (according to David Sanders on p. 107 of "Confront & Conceal") offered up a barbed assessment of how the White House had "spun" the Bin Laden raid: "I have a new communications approach to recommend ... Shut ... up."

. . .

Note: This review is my "second bite" of the apple. I've been criticized for writing my first review (replaced by this revision) before reading the book. However, my analysis was on target. In fact, McChrystal's book actually strengthened my arguments and filled in the blanks (if you're interested in more details, see my 200 page post, "Never Shall I Fail My Comrades" -- The Dark Legacy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, at the Feral Firefighter blog).

And, for those inclined to question my patriotism or courage, I graduated from Ranger School in '85 and served in an Airborne LRRP/LRSU team with Co. "F" (Ranger) 425th Infantry MI ARNG for eight years. Since then, I've been a firefighter the past 22 years. This revised review was published April 6, 2013 (replaced my original January 6, 2013 review).
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